Passing on Real Faith
By Vicki Fleming
I have to let my daughter go…just like the time my husband decided she was old enough to walk down the block to play or watch her drive out of the driveway for the first time. No matter how prepared you think you are there is still a moment of panic. Whatever I have taught doesn’t seem nearly enough.
She’s Ready, I’m Not!
She is our youngest and only daughter. Recently, I drove to a college visit. As she got out of the car, she looked back at me and grinned excitedly. I was struck once more by her gentle warmth and radiant smile. She was ready to be a college freshman even though I didn’t feel ready. It was then that I saw THEM…a group of tall, good looking young men with broad shoulders, dark tans, and facial hair. Could these possibly be college students? I had forgotten that not everyone would be a freshman. Where were the other children? What was I thinking when I agreed to send her to college?
My first inclination was to leave my car double-parked, rush into the building, take my child by the hand and bring her back to the safety of, well… me. I would report to my husband that there were “giants in the land.” Instead I sat there with my hands frozen to the steering wheel. I prayed yet again that the Holy Spirit would follow her where I could not. I recovered my breath, feebly slipped the car into gear, and slid out of the parking lot, tears welling up.
Preparing the Way
As I managed to fill the day browsing and sipping coffee, the same ragged question kept interrupting my thoughts: “Will her faith sustain her in secular college life?” I grew up as a pastor’s kid, yet if she were like me at that age, with my 1970’s love affair with all things worldly, I surely would have rushed in to retrieve her. But she isn’t me. She is infinitely more mature in her faith, and sure of the grace that sustains her. She will have to find her own way.
I know there are no guarantees; children make both good and bad choices. But I have to believe that there is something good that we, as parents, can provide. In Europe people tell each other to “Mind the gap!” which means to be careful of the step between the platform and the train. While our kids must navigate their own crossings between home faith and adult faith, I believe that parents can at least give them a “leg up.” Using the acronym of F.A.I.T.H., here are some of my musings about passing on real faith.
F – Find your own faith.
I cannot model genuine faith to my children if all I practice is religion - even good, church-going, committee-serving, Evangelical religion. Our children need to observe real faith in action: the struggles, the starts and stops, the confession, the wonder, and the joy of salvation. The children living in our homes will be the first to spot inauthentic or lukewarm faith. They want to know exactly how this grace-life works, not how we have managed to portray an image of churchy perfection.
A – Accept the life you have been given.
We must allow God to build contentment in us. We need to stop trying to fix our husbands and children and pray for the grace to love them generously, right where they are and the way they were made. That doesn’t mean that I should live without healthy boundaries; it simply means that I must come to a deep understanding that God exists, and that I am not He. By trusting my loving Creator and getting the help I need, I will try to give the people in my life the space and safety in which to grow.
I – Instill a sense of integrity and honesty.
Life is not fair! Too many parents seem to believe that children will be damaged if the world does not align itself to treat their children fairly, so parents make it their business to change the world. Instead of “preparing the child for the road” we attempt to “prepare the road for the child.” It never works. From teachers to friends to coaches, someone will always get in the way of that child being completely happy. One of the greatest gifts of freedom we can give a child is to teach the value of integrity and honesty in every situation. Our children, as well as we, need to learn to live in the beauty of I Corinthians 13…love is not easily offended, does not insist on its own way. A child who takes responsibility for his actions, and who rises above unfair situations without quitting, is a child whose faith is growing in fertile ground.
T – Take faith in Christ outside of church and particularly outside of youth group.
Of course, we want solid youth groups for our kids. But the entertainment and friendships of youth group, or even the spiritual high of summer camp and missions trips won’t be enough. A teenager desperately needs to learn the truth of “Christ’s life in us, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27) in every situation of life. Teens need to know the “rooted deeply” of Ephesians, the transformation of Romans. That is especially tricky if you have a “bells and whistles” youth group. It is easy to become convinced that a busy youth ministry program is offering the spiritual nutrition that perhaps it isn’t. Get your children involved in camps and ministries that emphasize: authentic faith in Christ, grounding in Scripture, and having true servant hearts. PRAY! Try praying Col. 1:9-14 for the kids in your sphere of influence. Get grandparents to pray, even if they belong to someone else!
H – Have fun with your children.
Sometimes we treat children more like projects than treasures. Commit to keeping communication with your teen open. Volunteer to drive, a lot! You will make hundreds of pizzas, and share gallons of ice cream and stay up later than you want to. When asked, share your struggles, fears, answers, and what Christ is doing in your life. Let your children talk and talk and talk. LISTEN to them, DON’T LECTURE.
Journey with Him
I am convinced that even on a bad day, God wants to be with me. He is not disappointed with my failures and flesh walk, because he expects nothing from my flesh. Christ died and exchanged His life for mine. His Holy Spirit nudges and refines me. My Father God accepts my repentance and gives complete restoration, and continues to enjoy the journey with me. He loves me with my imperfections in plain view. He can teach me to see my family like that.
And still, we may love a child who takes the very long road home, the journey of the prodigal. I was one of those children even though, as a PK, I grew up in a ministry home. My parents’ prayers, their candid and open love for me, and the authenticity of their faith helped bring me home. Years later, when I asked my mom to forgive me for all the heartache I had brought to our family, she put her arms around me and said, “You taught me how to pray.”
Smile into the Future
I smile as I pull back onto the college campus to pick up my daughter. She is waiting for me, her arms full of paperwork, eyes bright with promise, and her voice spilling into the car as she opens the door and proceeds to tell me all about it. I know that we will both learn more about letting go as we head for home.